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The big grey man of Ben MacDhui

13 March, 2015 0 Comments

First published in the May 2014 issue of Spotlight

We’ve got one of those.”

I turned my head to see if the voice was talking to me. I was sitting at a bus stop, waiting for the bus that would take me to the foot of Ben MacDhui for a day’s walk on one of Scotland’s wildest mountains. I hadn’t noticed the old man.

He pointed at the newspaper I was reading.

“We’ve got one ofthose,” he repeated.

I looked him up and down: short, with a tough appearance, a white beard.

“You’ve got one of what?” I asked.

“One of those.”

He tapped the headline in the newspaper: “New sighting of yeti.”

“Up there, he is,” he said, and he nodded towards the mountains, still topped with snow, although the summer was already here.

“Tell me more,” I said, trying hard not to smile.

“Saw him with my own eyes,” the old man went on.“Thirty years ago, it was. A Sunday in the early spring. The snow was still deep on the mountains.”

He turned his head and spat on to the road.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I was up there, and I’d got myself a wee bit lost. The wind was getting up, and it wasjust beginning to snow again. Then I heard it.”

“What, the yeti?” I said, eyes wide.

“Not the yeti — and anyway, we don’t call him that round here. No, it was a groaning sound, someone in pain.I followed the sound, and I found him.”

“You found the yeti?” I asked.

“No, not him. Just a man. Lying by a big rock. His eyes were closed. Snow was settling on his clothes and face. I leaned down and put my hand on his shoulder. His eyes opened wide, and he screamed, trying to get away from me, whimpering and waving his arms around. ‘Calm yourself down,’ I said. ‘I’m here to help you, you fool.’”

The old man spat again and continued: “So he started talking to himself. In Gaelic, it was: ‘Am Fear Liath Mòr’— the big grey man, that means. Kept saying it. ‘Where’s the trouble?’ I asked, looking for an injury. I touched his leg, and he howled — broken. He wouldn’t be walking off that mountain.”

“What did you do?” I asked the old man, beginning to find the story interesting.

“Aye, what was I to do? The snow was coming down,the wind was blowing. I tell you, I began to fear for both me and him. I had flares in my rucksack, but there was no point in sending one up in a blizzard. I couldn’t leave the man there to die. So I decided to build a snow hole to keep us safe for the night.”

“A snow hole? You’re joking,” I laughed.

The old man looked me up and down, from my newboots to my new jacket.

“You haven’t spent a lot of time in the mountains,” he said to me.

“You’re right,” I admitted. “Please, tell me more.”

“Well, anyway,” the old man continued, “I found a good spot and started digging. It was tough work, and it was dark when I’d finished, but there it was: an ice cave. So I pulled the man in, lit a couple of candles and closedup the entrance.”

The old man stopped for a moment, and then he leaned towards me. “It was a wild night,” he said. “Thewind was howling like a hungry wolf until…”

The old man’s voice dropped, and I leaned closer.

“Until… in the wee small hours, as the wind dropped, I heard something else out there in the icy dark. First, I heard footsteps crunching on fresh snow; then a deep-throated breathing, and a snuffling of something sniffing the air, sniffing the ground, searching, hunting. Closer it came. The man beside me, who I had thought asleep, began to whimper again. ‘Am Fear Liath Mòr,’ he whispered. Then there was a scuffle and a crack, and something squealed terribly as it died. The wind began to moan again.”

The old man stopped and studied my face. “Well, the morning came, and the sun was shining, so I sent up a flare, and all we could do was wait. I left the man in the snow hole until a helicopter from Dunmarne airbase saw us. They were putting him on a stretcher, when he started muttering in Gaelic again. The paramedic says to me: ‘So you’ve been having fun with the big grey man, have you? Tall as a house, all covered in hair, they say.’”

The old man blew his nose loudly. “Well,” he continued,“after the helicopter left, I started down the mountain.I went past the rock where I’d found him. And there it was.”

“What, the big grey man?” I asked, surprised.

“No, it wasn’t the big grey man. It was the head of a mountain hare, torn from its body. There it was, lying in apatch of red snow. When I saw that, I started to run. I ran down that mountain, and I didn’t stop until I reached the village.”

The old man rubbed his beard.

“Maybe it was just a dog,” I said as I stood up. My bus had arrived.

He grinned. “Maybe. — Anyway, enjoy your day onthe mountain.”

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